Bill Nelson – Chimera and Savage Gestures for Charms Sake

Two Bill Nelson releases hailing from 1983, both of the mini-album variety that was so very much in vogue at the time. The first of these, ‘Chimera’, capped off Bill’s short but highly productive two year stint with Mercury records, the second, ‘Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’, saw the return to Cocteau Records as a going commercial concern once more. Both very enjoyable in their own way, they were later brought together on a single Cocteau Records CD for re-issue before later being being split apart again with ‘Chimera’ upgraded to a single CD expanded edition in 2005, while ‘Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’, other than a long since deleted stand-alone re-issue on CD in 1989, currently languishes in the wastelands. First up…


‘Chimera’

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera' UK mini album front cover design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera’ UK mini album front cover design

It has an unusual back story, this album. Recorded late 1982 at The Garden and Riverside Studios, it apparently started life with the intention of being a bridging four track EP between 1982’s ‘The Love That Whirls’ album and the next intended full-length album, but ended up a six track mini-album released around the time the intended album should have been with the addition of two extra tracks. (Production work for amongst others Gary Numan and The Units got in the way…) Four of its six songs have drum tracks supplied courtesy of Yukihiro Takahashi (though apparently five such drum tracks were recorded). Ahead of the game as ever, these were not so much a traditional collaboration where the two musicians were present in the studio together to work on the tracks. No, instead the drum tracks were recorded separately and supplied to Bill Nelson, who then wrote music to fit round them. This worked out extremely well, it’s a strong mini-album. The oddest fit is probably on ‘Glow World’, where Bill has Previously been quoted in interview about having to accommodate the sudden radical change in rhythm with a jarringly different in feel instrumental break.

’Glow World’ also has the wonderfully talented Mick Karn on fretless bass guitar add to its complexity. Similar to Yukihiro Takahashi’s drum tracks, apparently there were two other tracks for which Mick Karn recorded bass, but these were not included but have never surfaced.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here though. The album starts off with ‘The Real Adventure’, a cracking, busy little explosion of sound that carries on with the good work of the preceding ‘The Love That Whirls’ album’s synth-driven sonics, if anything that bit more muscular and chiselled by way of Takahashi’s drums.

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera' UK mini album rear cover design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera’ UK mini album rear cover design

‘Acceleration’ is up next and sets off on a carefully sequenced synth rhythm and Roland TR808 rhythm machine before a much smoother sound develops courtesy of Nelson’s more soulful vocals and his brother, Ian Nelson, joining in to add saxophone throughout.  Had this been a regular length album, it’s not difficult to imagine that this would have been an obvious choice as a lead off single. As it happens, there was a promo-only 7” single at the time. But it was well over a year later that a radically remixed John Luongo US remix and dub saw a release on 7” and extended 12” forms.

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera' UK mini album label side 1 design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera’ UK mini album label side 1 design

Side one is seen out with the muscular funk that is ‘Everyday Feels Like Another New Drug’, with Nelson’s vocals once again letting go in a looser, soulful vein alternating with a more urgent clip atop the busy musical workout underneath. The latter part of the track manages to wand in the highly amusing radio and television sourced voice collage that makes up a track of its own in the form of ‘The Blazing Memory Of Innuendo’ from the album ‘Chamber Of Dreams (Music From The Invisibility Exhibition)’.

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera' UK mini album label side 2 design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera’ UK mini album label side 2 design

‘Tender Is The Night’ is quite the contrast to start off side two, a much gentler affair after the crash, bang, wallop funk, with quieter Roland TR808 drum machine providing the rhythmic bed to start things off, while all remaining instruments are played by Bill. It’s followed by the frenzied ‘Glow World’ which we’ve already discussed, which leaves the closing beauty of ‘Another Day, Another Ray of Hope’, easily one of Bill’s most beautiful tracks of the time. At once joyful but with a hint of melancholy, “our silver turns to gold” indeed. Opening to a mesh of e-bow guitar, that Roland TR808 once again fires up and propels proceedings along rhythmically in fine spirit, swathes of synths again present, correct and accounted for, before Preston Hayman’s rhythmic barrage lets loose in the latter stages before the song fades away to reverb-drenched piano – you can almost smell the autumn bonfire in the golden light of sunset at this point…

In the US, the six tracks of ‘Chimera’ were instead released under the title ‘Vistamix’ and padded out with a further four tracks from earlier releases… but that’s a whole other story of its own really, partly touched on in my previous post about the ‘Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam’ album.


‘Savage Gestures For Charms Sake’

Bill Nelson - 'Savage Gestures For Charms Sake' mini album front cover

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Savage Gestures For Charms Sake’ mini album front cover

The story seems to go that problems with Bill’s then management along with record company disappointment at the failure of ‘Chimera’ to chart led to the relationship with Mercury Records reaching an end. So, Bill’s next commercial release came via his own Cocteau Records label (which during the Mercury Records period had still been on the go for soundtrack and ‘Acquitted by Mirrors’ fan club releases.

This copy of the mini-album you see here came to me as a Christmas present in 1983. Albums as Christmas presents had been a very exciting thing for me from 1980 onwards. Happy days.

Sonically, this album was a world away from ‘Chimera’. Where that record was underpinned by rather busy drum, percussion and rhythm box tracks, rhythms here come via the instruments themselves. It’s an adventurous sound from the off, not least with the opening ‘The Man InThe Rexine Suit’, that is propelled rhythmically with abstract electronics and busy marimba and bass synth, plenty of reversed tape sounds in there too, while Ian Nelson’s elegant sax weaves its way through the piano that makes up the melody on top. The rhythm that the following track, the beautifully mournful ‘Watching My Dream Boat Go Down In Flames’, is built upon sounds like a tape loop of some sort and reversed minimal rhythm box, upon which an ever unfolding musical landscape emerges, with Bill’s e-bow guitar taking the lead. It reminds me somehow of some of the work Bill did with Skids round the time of the wonderful ‘Days In Europa’. Side one concludes with the Oriental feel of ‘The Meat Room’. The unmistakable sound if the Casio VL-1’s ‘violin’ preset is met loose here to run free form across the piece.

Bill Nelson - 'Savage Gestures For Charms Sake' mini album rear cover

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Savage Gestures For Charms Sake’ mini album rear cover

Side two gets underway in a calm and subdued mood courtesy of ‘Narcosis’. More backward sounds, slowly unfurling beneath synth me This is closer in territory to the material found on ‘Sounding the Ritual Echo’ or perhaps ‘Echo In Her Eyes’ from ‘The Love That Whirls’. Either way it is quite a beautiful, minimal jewel of a piece.

‘Another Happy Thought (Carved Forever In Your Cortex’) is easily the most rhythmic and dare I say cheery track, built on a Roland TR808 rhythm track it is once again, like ‘The Meat Room’, mining the pentatonic for that Oriental feel as it goes about its cheery ways.

The closing track, ‘Portrait of Jan With Moon And Stars’ is another beauty, though this time in dusk-hued rays it’s almost like a slow-motion freeze frame beat less version of the dying notes of ‘Another Day Another Ray Of Hope’ from ‘Chimera’, elongated into darkness.

Bill Nelson - 'Savage Gestures For Charms Sake' mini album poster - 'The Object Lesson'

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Savage Gestures For Charms Sake’ mini album poster – ‘The Object Lesson’

My version of the LP has the same label applied to both sides, hence why there is only the one photo here…

Bill Nelson - 'Savage Gestures For Charms Sake' mini album label design side 1

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Savage Gestures For Charms Sake’ mini album label design side 1

The record comes complete with an art print, which would later reappear within the pages of ‘The Arcane Eye’, the photo book that was included as part of the 1984 box set ‘Trial by Intimacy (The Book of Splendours)’ – at least it did eventually, as it wasn’t ready when the boxes first shipped and was posted out some months later.

A stand-alone CD version complete with a pretty faithful adaption of the original artwork for CD jewel case format emerged on the US label Enigma in 1989, but I have never come across a copy of that.


In the UK, the only time this mini album has appeared on CD format to date was back in 1987 when it was combined with ‘Chimera’ to fill one disc. Depending on your viewpoint, it’s either a good thing or a missed opportunity that the mini-albums’ tracklists were left as is. So we have the six songs of ‘Chimera’ up first in order followed by the six tracks from ‘Savage Gestures…’ afterwards. Mixing them up a bit might have produced a hybrid full-length 1983 imaginary album… the vocal tracks salted with the instrumentals… or perhaps that’s just crazy talk. Your answers on a postcard to…

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD

For the packaging however, it was very much a mash-up of the two cover designs. My own copy of this CD is a little mangled from some water damage that led to a less than successful parting of the dried inner pages, as can be seen. Using the illustration by Bill Nelson for the front cover from ‘Savage Gestures…’, the Gill Sans typography from the credits of  ‘Chimera’ was used throughout the booklet which now had the lyrics included. Use of the attractive ‘Albertus’ font used on the titling from ‘Chimera’ was dropped altogether though. Rather than make use of the deep magenta-red colouring of ‘Chimera’, the secondary golden-yellow that had been used for the titling became the predominant colour instead.

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - insert rear cover

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – insert rear cover

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - disc label design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – disc label design

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - rear case design

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – rear case design

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - inner booklet spread 1

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – inner booklet spread 1

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - inner booklet spread 2

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – inner booklet spread 2

Bill Nelson - 'Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake' UK CD - inner booklet spread 3

^ Bill Nelson – ‘Chimera/Savage Gestures for Charms Sake’ UK CD – inner booklet spread 3

Sources:

Bill Nelson interview in ‘Electronics and Music Maker’, August 1983, archived on Mu:Zines.

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